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“You can not make a revolution with silk gloves.” That’s how Josef Stalin put it and, by Georges, he ought to know. Revolution is a messy affair. Unpredictable. Inconvenient. An all around dirty business. Taking off the silk gloves, however, we find Stalin hinting at something more egregious with that little gloved zinger. He put it gingerly but I’ll say it plainly. There is no greater spoil to a tea party than a revolution. Why would Stalin, brazen revolutionary of the most insidious kind, mince his words while also mincing the peasantry? The answer lies in the tea leaves. More to the point, Queen Victoria’s tea leaves.

Stalin was politically correct, astutely diplomatic when he called comrades to arms by way of silk gloves rather than the British pasttime of passing time by way of tea. Had he said, “You can not make a revolution in a tea room,” there would have been such violent uproar as had not been heard in England since a bastard became queen (back in the day). Anybody who was anybody in the latter 19th/early 20th century knew not to vex Victoria. If Victoria was vexed there’d be no imperial peace, not for all the tea in China. The Russians knew it, what with the Crimean War and all, so PC Stalin tread lightly. Just like the angels. He knew which Straits not to cross. You could assassinate the Russian royals (her majesty’s kin), you could massacre the people, you could terrorize hipster bohemians and batter the bourgeois – but you ought not profane the British tea party by inferring it was unsuited for revolution.

Victoria has a point. When you consider the pivotal role tea has played on the stage of world revolutions you’ll find one heck of a brew. From patriots to rebels, tea seems always to be on the menu. The tempest is in the teapot. The only certainties in life; tea and taxes. Crackpots serve tea to awol girls turning the world upside down ( cracked teapot, naturally). Colonial rebels tossed the king’s tea into Boston Harbor fully aware this was an act of war. So, what is it about tea parties that revolutionize otherwise silent majorities (latest statistics suggest 99%, but who’s polling the pollsters)? I may have an answer. Gypsies.

You are thinking, ‘Here we go blaming the gypsies again.’ Do hear me out. I am not recklessly blaming gypsies. I have great empathy for them (yes, some of my best friends are gypsies but we’ll not talk about that). They’ve taken a bad rap. Hated for who they are and what they stand for. Accused of every criminal act from illicit child theft (for licit think Madison Ave and public schools) to hocking stolen wares (we used to call them ‘hot’ – now we say ‘pirated’- but I digress), the gypsy underclass has bore an undeserved share of complicity in all things distasteful to the tea drinking, mud slinging civilized world. If a milk cow goes missing, blame the gypsies. When a lover no longer loves, it’s a gypsy spell. Should an economy collapse it’s the fault of nomadic gypsies who prefer begging to gainful employment and occupying to actually inhabiting. It’s unfortunate. By persistently slandering this noble people who are naturally peaceful, athletic, and musically gifted (it’s a bohemian thing – either you have it or you don’t), we are tossing out the baby with the bath water. Yes we are.

What we miss by such haughty bias against gypsy mores (do we speak of their fashion statement as chic like we say of the French, or shabby chic?) is the organic seed that has sprouted revolutions ever since gypsies wandered and the masses refused stale bread. (Eden had its apples but that’s another story.) Had this seed been eradicated, wiped from the face of a fertile and hostile earth before it became a weed in cultivated gardens the history of the world would have been oh so very different. I am sure of it. The seed I refer to is Camellia assamica. On the Arab street and cobblestone alleys it’s just called tea. Don’t let it trip you up. A tea by any other name is still a tea. Chinese, Japanese, Ceylon – all Asian. The same geo-political hotbed that gave the world gypsies also gave it tea. It was tea leaves reading gypsies who spread this vine of revolution across the mead drinking, wine tasting world and nothing would ever be the same. Not even gypsy occupations.

©RCiuffo 2012

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